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On kitchen experiments with tofu and other stories

Tofu can be made at home; all you need is curiosity, patience and elbow grease

Tofu is both delicious and good for you
Tofu is both delicious and good for you (Unsplash)

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The year was 2006. I had started posting my kitchen experiments on my blog, Saffron Trail. I am consciously choosing the term experiments because I was still finding my feet in the kitchen, putting together ingredients, trying out dishes and testing these on my sole volunteer, the husband.

I had just read about homemade soy milk and tofu on another food blog and the new food blogger in me was raring to give this a try. We used to live in Vile Parle in Mumbai. Those were the days of calling your neighbourhood kirana shop on your landline (you remember?) and asking them to deliver something you needed urgently. I ordered soybeans around 10 on a weeknight so I could soak these overnight and get started with my preparation of soya milk and tofu at home. I knew I was taking this “making from scratch” and “experimenting in my kitchen” too far, but chemistry was my favourite subject in high school and I felt I could do this.

Also read: How to use makhana in everyday recipes

Long story short, I did end up making the soy milk and the tofu. It was a learning I still remember 16 years later. What was even more memorable was the clean-up operation of my tiny Mumbai kitchen, and being the zero-waste person I was, the large quantity of soybean residue I had to use up over a week. The bigger lesson was that with a mix of curiosity, patience and elbow grease, almost anything can be made from scratch.

These days in Bengaluru, I have access to the best tofu (dubu) from a Korean restaurant, Arirang, located in Kammanahalli. If there is a large enough demand from a particular locality, they deliver to other parts of the city. This tofu has the cleanest flavour, no weird smells or tastes, and the texture is to die for. My fridge is never without a few blocks of their firm tofu and tubs of soft tofu. The firm tofu is used in stir-fries, pan-frying, salads, rice paper rolls and fried rice. The soft tofu is delicious in ramen bowls or in Korean stews (jjigae).

Another thing that makes you wonder how something that’s good for you can taste so good, is smoked tofu, which can be eaten as is or added to salads. If you love smoky flavours, this is addictively good. I can imagine a nice pairing with a smoky single malt like Ardbeg or Compass Box. There are quite a few brands that make this, so check out what is available locally in your city. Staying true to my latest book, I am almost tempted to buy my own smoker so I can have a constant supply of smoked tofu for snacking at home.

The best tofu stir-fry

Tofu stirfry
Tofu stirfry

Serves 4

Ingredients

400g tofu

1-2 tbsp oil

8-10 leaves basil (Italian or Thai)

1 tsp sesame seeds

Marinade

2-3 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 tbsp vinegar

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp crushed dried basil

Half tsp black pepper

1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

2 tsp honey

Method

Wrap the tofu in a clean absorbent kitchen towel and place a weight on it (like a mortar pestle or a heavy utensil) for 15-30 minutes. This is so that all the water in the tofu is extracted. Cube the tofu into one-inch pieces. In a wide bowl, combine all the ingredients for the marinade. Place the tofu in the bowl and toss gently to coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a pan. Drain the marinating tofu with a slotted spoon and add it to the hot oil. Stir gently on a high flame. For a golden crust, allow the tofu to sear in the pan on medium-high heat under supervision. Flip and cook similarly on other sides. Once the tofu is golden, remove to a serving dish. Garnish with finely chopped basil and sesame seeds. Serve with plain steamed rice along with a curry or greens or serve as an appetiser.

Also read: 3 ways to reuse your leftover idlis

The leftover marinade can be used as a salad dressing or to dress steamed leafy greens.

SLURPY TOFU NOODLE CURRY BOWL

Slurpy tofu noodle curry bowl
Slurpy tofu noodle curry bowl

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 pack hakka noodles

1 medium onion

1 medium carrot

1 green bell pepper

1 tbsp coconut oil

200g firm tofu, diced

200ml coconut milk

2 tbsp roasted peanuts

1 stalk spring onion greens

Curry paste

Half inch piece of fresh turmeric*, sliced

2 tbsp chopped lemongrass stalk

2 green chillies

2-3 tbsp chopped coriander stems

3-4 shallots (or use sambar onions)

1 tbsp coriander seeds

4 cloves garlic

Half-inch piece of ginger, sliced

Half tsp salt

Method

Cook the noodles as per pack instructions. Drain, toss in a few drops of oil to prevent sticking and keep aside. Place all the ingredients for the curry paste in a spice blender and blend to a fine paste using two-three tablespoons of water or coconut milk. Keep aside.

Thinly slice the onion. Julienne the carrot and cut the bell pepper into thin strips. Heat the oil in a pan and stir-fry the veggies on a high flame for one-two minutes. Add the diced tofu and the curry paste to the pan. Stir for one-two minutes until the curry paste is mixed well with the veggies and tofu. Stir in the coconut milk over a low flame.

Once the curry has come to a gentle simmer, take the pan off the heat. Divide the cooked noodles between two bowls. Pour the curry over the noodles. Garnish with crushed roasted peanuts and chopped spring onion greens.

*Or use half teaspoon of turmeric powder

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of the newly released book This Handmade Life—7 Skills To Enhance And Transform Your Everyday Life.

@saffrontrail

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